What It’s Like Being Stranded in Your Hometown

9 am.  Sitting on the foot-tall brick wall outside my apartment.  The last full cigarette I had was at 1:30 am just before getting locked out.  The locksmith’s on his way.

The things you think about at times like this.  A shower, for instance.  Sleeping in a bed.  The weather.  It’s not hot out yet.  A locked apartment.  The coffee I put on is probably no good after 7.5 hours.  A coffee sounds great, just not that one.  The events leading up to this moment in time.  An alley in Goussainville.  The people who help you out.  Roughly in that order.

The only thing on your mind just after getting locked out of your apartment is getting back into your apartment.  Who do I know that lives near me?  A couple of people, but I don’t know exactly where.  Jamie just moved to . . . I forget.  Jennifer’s place on Tennessee is within walking distance, but which building was it again?  How do I know so many people and not know where they live?  Maybe I could make it down to Harbour Lights before they close?  Probably not.  The Kwik Shop on 9th and Mississippi is just down the street and is open 24 hours.  I’m sure I could use the phone.  Get ahold of a locksmith.

Nothing.  Now what?  Oh yeah, Frank lives nearby.  I know where.  I’ll walk there.  Lights are off.  I could knock on the door anyway.  No, there are kids in the house.  Probably a bad idea.

Maybe the police station?  Why not walk down there?  Apparently, there are people hanging out on Mass. St. at all hours of the night (on a Wednesday? what are they doing?), but the police station is closed.  Not sure what the police could have done for me anyway.  My wallet and ID are inside my apartment.  How could I prove I live there?

Back up 9th.  People walk their dogs in Lawrence, KS at four in the morning, I guess.  The things you learn.  I find a couple of wires near some street work.  Everyone in the world can rest easier knowing that I cannot pick a lock to save my life.  It looks so easy in the movies.  You even try wiggling the doorknob hoping that it will fall off or come unlocked if you keep at it.  Finding out this doesn’t work, you realize that you’re locked out for the night.  And resign yourself to it.

You roll up the doormat to use as a pillow and sleep on your balcony.  The night’s still hot with that awful Kansas humidity that takes everything out of you.  You get some sleep (maybe 1.5 hours?) and wake up freezing.  It’s probably 5:30 or 6 am, before sunrise.  You switch out your doormat pillow for a shoe pillow and use the doormat as a blanket to stay warm.  You manage maybe an hour more of sleep to be wakened by the bizarre screeching of some animal (perhaps some angry squirrel?) and simultaneously by a hungry mosquito that has bitten your left arm three times, aiming for the vein, and then got the knuckle, apparently wanting to shake hands and be friendly.

At this point, you arise to greet the sun, scrounging around in your ash tray for mostly smoked cigarettes that may have a few drags left on them and manage to find a few.  At least you still have your lighter on you.

Frank just got new office space downtown on Vermont.  What time does he get in?  Not sure, but, without a better idea, you decide to go down there and find out.  There’s little foot traffic at this hour, but cars have taken over the streets.  Some cars have personality.  Everyone knows their own.  But when people are rushing to work or to take their kids to school, all of them seem the same somehow.

“Is Frank here?”  “No, not yet.”  “Do you know what time he gets in?”  His coworker Jeff texts Frank, who replies shortly that he probably won’t be in until around ten.  I explain the situation.  Jeff does a search on the internet for a locksmith.  Lets me use his phone.  I try Reuschoff.  No luck.  I do a quick search on Jeff’s phone.  Find a 24-hour service.  Everything’s set.  The locksmith will be at my apartment in an hour.  I thank Jeff and head back home after having three or four glasses of water.  After nothing to drink for eight hours and walking for miles in the humid night, water is the best thing in the world.

It’s not until you know the problem’s resolved that your mind can finally relax and wander and think about Goussainville.  The last time you were in Paris.  Took the wrong train in the Metro.  Locked out of Paris for the night.  Stranded in Goussainville.  No hotel near the station.  Almost had to sleep in an alley.  Two seedy-looking Frenchmen walked by and asked for a cigarette.  I gave them one, happy they didn’t take my suitcase as well.  The Metro had closed just after I stepped off the train.

I remember hearing trains still going and went back to the station to double check.  A Metro worker was just ending his shift.  He asked me if I needed help.  I said I did.  He offered to drive me to a hotel for fifty francs to cover gas.  I accepted his offer.  He took me to a nearby hotel, spoke to the front desk, helped me get checked in, and told me how to get back to the station in the morning.  The next day, I found the hostel.  It was a two-minute walk from the Louvre.  Miles away from the suburbs.  And much more beautiful.  I wouldn’t say Goussainville is ghastly, but it’s not much to look at.

In travel or at home, it’s the people who help you out along the way you never forget.  At times, you think of them and hope they’re doing well.  It’s the hotel and the locksmith you’ll forget about after a while.  But, either way, after a night like this, there’s nothing better than taking a nice, long shower and sleeping in a bed.

A Day Out: Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza

When thinking of The Plaza, the first thing that comes to my mind is Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY singing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”  To walk along the beautiful streets passing by high-end retailers like Armani and Burberry!  Ah, compare that to our peasant shops here in Lawrence, KS, which are mainly locally owned, where people toil their lives away to eke out a humble living.  Sure we have The Gap and Urban Outfitters on our little Mass. St., but Gucci?  No, sir, we’ve none of that ‘ere in Larryville.  Just an abundance of PBR and used (I mean “vintage”) clothes.

Sometimes it’s nice to see how the other half lives, however, to break free from the poor little village to which you’ve grown accustomed, to walk in luxury, surrounded by luxurious streets and buildings which contain luxurious things and to pretend, even if for one moment, that you could ever afford a pin-striped Gucci suit.  It’s the ancient art of window shopping.  To catch a glimpse at a life you could only dream of.

If Barnes and Noble is indicative of any other shop on The Plaza, they’re all impressive inside.  Three stories of books, notebooks, magazines, one story of music and movies, a cafe.  I bought a copy of Capote’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and went on my way to brush shoulders with the glamour and luxury etched on every stone of The Plaza.





At this point, I was famished.  Glamour and luxury is all well and good, but, when it’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon and the only thing you’ve eaten all day is a mediocre doughnut you picked up at the grocery store (precisely, Dillon’s on 6th St.), your mind starts turning to other things.

On the advice of a dear friend of mine, I’d set out to eat at The Cheesecake Factory.  You can always tell a true friend by how acutely their advice strikes you.  Cheesecake is high on my list of things I could not do without.  Perhaps it was because I was in a daze of hunger, but I couldn’t find The Cheesecake Factory to save my life.  I did, however, come upon Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.

When in Rome, they say, do as the Romans.  When in Kansas City, eat barbecue.  Seriously.  It doesn’t matter which one.  Everybody’s got their favorite.  Mine is Gates.  Other people acknowledge that Gates is a good one but argue that Arthur Bryant’s is better.  There’s Oklahoma Joe’s.  There’s Danny Edward’s.  There’s about as many barbecue restaurants in Kansas City as there are cathedrals in Rome.  And, no matter which you go to, you won’t be disappointed.  When on The Plaza, go to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.  You won’t be disappointed.

And then you might discover, as I did, that The Cheesecake Factory is just around the corner.  And you might also, as I did, discover that, no matter how full you thought you were after eating a massive helping of barbecue, there is always enough room for cheesecake.  And you, as I did, might very well discover that, no matter how good the description on the menu of the dulce de leche caramel cheesecake may sound, seeing it in front of you dispels any doubt in your mind on the matter.


The cheesecake put up a good fight.  Ultimately I couldn’t finish the entire thing.

Oh, and there’s an impressive fountain on the patio.  By the way.


Across the street is the J. C. Nichols Memorial Fountain.



Geese and people with cameras just love this fountain.  Sometimes the geese will pose for you.


Even the geese are glamorous at The Plaza.

You would think that seeing the most impressive fountain in Kansas City would make all the others pale in comparison, but I noticed more fountains on my way to Scooter’s for coffee than I had earlier, and they all seemed more impressive somehow.

Neptune, God of the Sea:


This cat face:


And there are some lovely statues.


I read around 30 pages of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S on the patio outside Scooter’s.


During this time, a drummer was setting up a drum kit.  Later, he would be joined by a DJ, a front man, a couple of female vocalists, and a small entourage of supporters.  They’d perform, alternating between the DJ spinning tracks with live percussion and performances of original songs, trying to raise funds for their first professional project.  A dance party would ensue, everyone having good times.  All ages of people, young kids, teenagers, elderly, different races, different lives, together dancing.

I finished my coffee and went for one more walk around The Plaza before returning to Scooter’s.  Every restaurant was full of people, large windows open, blurring the lines between the people dining al fresco and the people dining inside.  It was dusk, and it all seemed so beautiful, as if nothing could ever go wrong there.  Like being at Tiffany’s, perhaps.


Day Trip to Westport

A new car takes some getting used to.  There’s no clutch, for one.  Really weird at stop lights not having to shift gears manually.  The driver’s side window rolls down.  People might actually hear me singing at the top of my lungs when waiting for the light to change.  The driver’s side door opens from the inside!  No more reaching through the rear window to unlatch the door from the outside.  The new car has a tape deck.  And me with no tapes, just a new-fangled iPod which has come in handy ever since the CD player stopped working in the old car.

I learned to drive a stick shift by driving through miles and miles of Kansas country roads around my parents’ house as a teenager while listening to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and Pearl Jam too loud.  To this day, I think the best way of getting used to a new car (even if it is an automatic) is to drive it somewhere.  So I put together a playlist of some of my favorite songs, hit the highway with ABBA’s “Super Trouper” blaring, and took a day trip to Westport.


Westport is probably my favorite area in Kansas City.  In part, because of murals like these:

IMG_1304PBR Rex: this guy reminds me of several people I know who frequent The Replay.

Beautiful areas like this:

IMG_1302I’m sure even PBR Rex would have to pause and admire this staircase before heading down to Buzzard Beach or Kelly’s.

Pennsylvania St.:

IMG_1305If PBR Rex had taken the time to walk up those steps, he would have found himself on this street.  And, if I had more money on me, I might have taken him to Korma Sutra for some fantastic Indian food and bought him a cigar at Fidel’s afterward.

Joe’s Pizza:

IMG_1296You might say it’s just pizza, but no.  This is a slice of Westport.  I’m sure PBR Rex has had more than a few slices while drinking at Kelly’s:



The history:

IMG_1307There are historic markers like this all over Westport, which get more interesting after a few beers.  Just ask PBR Rex.  He knows.

Broadway Cafe:

IMG_1297While PBR Rex is probably boozing it up at McCoy’s, I’m having a coffee.  Somehow, it’s just not a trip to Westport without having a cup here, sitting on one of the chairs out front, and watching the cars and people go by.

Murray’s Ice Creams and Cookies:

IMG_1300I can’t speak for PBR Rex, but, really, if I hated ice cream altogether, Murray’s would outright change my mind.

The Westport Coffeehouse.  Less conversation and more people on computers than at The Broadway Cafe, but they have a theatre, and there’s this on one of the outside corners:

IMG_1313I think PBR Rex must have gone into The Beaumont for some shots and a show.  But I’m sure I’ll meet up with him again; there’s not enough time to see a film at The Tivoli today.  For now, a glass of iced tea sounds better than a beer on a humid afternoon, and I’ve still got half the playlist to listen to on the 45-minute drive back to Lawrence.

The new car may still take some getting used to.


Photos from my first trip to Paris at age 15

Old yearbooks.  These exist only to taunt and torment the people whose photos they contain, preserving for all history how silly and awkward you really looked through adolescence.  I think the yearbook may have been invented purely out of spite by someone years ago who sold everyone on the idea and then failed to show up for the class photo so that later no one could really say what that person looked like, while he or she could then scoff at the clothes everyone else wore at the time.  Not to mention their hair.

It is an exciting and terrifying thing to discover a box of stuff from your high school days at your parents’ house.  There is no telling what it will contain or if you want to know.  Yet, somehow, you know you must open it.  I can’t say how happy I am that a stack of old yearbooks didn’t fall out of the box I found.  The yearbooks remain hidden away somewhere unknown, which is all for the best in the grand scope of it all, I’m sure.

Among some notes from classmates, photos from my freshman year in college, a few VHS cassettes, some mixtapes, and various other memories, I found the photos I took when I went to Paris with French Club between my Sophomore and Junior years in high school.

Some of the photos were terrible, like this one:


Seriously, there is no telling what was going on in my strange 15-year-old mind when I took that shot.  Certainly not the tourist poster for the Catacombs.


Some of them were inexplicable, like this one:


I have no idea why I took this photo nor anything about the African Safari Club in Paris.  But, for that matter, the place will always be mysterious to me.  There will always be some part of Paris yet to discover.


There is the obligatory photo of me standing by Jim Morrison’s grave:


I can’t remember who took this photo, but it’s perhaps the worst photo of me ever taken.  But it’s at Jim Morrison’s grave.  I remember thinking it might be inappropriate to smile in a photo taken at a grave but also that it might be weird to not smile, so I ended up doing both at the same time right as the photo was shot.


But, then, just as it is with memories of adolescence, there were some photos that weren’t too bad, like these:


A view from our hotel window.



Another view from our hotel window.



Some kids hanging out on the steps of a famous place in Paris.  There are a lot of famous places in Paris, and this is one of them.  Honestly, I forget which one.  Breathtaking, though.



The Eiffel Tower.  Somehow you never forget the first time you saw it.



The Opera House.  Mainly I remember a horde of pigeons milling around the place.  Perhaps they enjoy Verdi.



Tour Montparnasse.  The tallest building in Paris.  I think it may have been built just for the view from the roof.  There may be some other reasons as well, but they couldn’t be as interesting.



A view of Paris from the top of Tour Montparnasse.  Somehow Paris will always be.  It’s like a memory you never want to forget.